Panthers beat Ducks 14-1, remain atop district standings
By KEITH SPARKS
The wins just keep coming for the Lady Panther softball team. The Panthers, now 25-1-1 on the season and 9-0 district play, continued their hot streak with a win over the Taylor Ducks on Tuesday.
The game was initially slated to take place at Taylor on Monday, but due to rain, the game was rescheduled and moved to Liberty Hill. The Panthers were technically the away team, so they batted at the top of each inning.
Senior Sam Barnett, who finished the game with a triple and an RBI, credited the Panthers’ willingness to do the little things night in and night out, as opposed to just looking to hit home runs.
“I think it’s our mentality,” Barnett said. “No matter who we’re facing, no matter what opponent, we go in there thinking that it’s going to be a difficult game. We’re going to do everything we can do to score runs, and we’re not necessarily just looking for the long ball, but finding any way to get our teammates to cross home plate.”
A prime example of Barnett’s comment took place in the second inning, as Ashley Gatlin performed a sacrifice bunt to advance Ashton Dirner to second base. Logan Oehler was up to bat next, and she was able to drop one into the outfield, allowing Dirner to score from second, all stemming from a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt. Oehler finished the game two for four at the plate with two RBIs and a double.
That run put the Panthers up by a score of 3-1 in the top of the second inning. The Panthers were able to score two more runs in the second on an interesting play in the infield, as two Ducks ran into each other on what seemed to be a routine pop fly, allowing Joely Williamson to reach first and giving two Panther runners the opportunity to score. After two innings, the Panthers held a 5-1 lead.
The runs kept coming, and the Panthers ran away with the game in the top of the sixth. While nobody hit a home run on Tuesday, the Panthers hit RBI single after RBI single. Williamson was able to lead off the inning with a triple, followed by an RBI single from Jessika Truax that allowed Williamson to score. Dirner, Oehler, and Barnett each hit RBI singles in the sixth inning, ultimately giving the Panthers a 14-1 victory.
Head Coach Charice Hankins, who had previously stated that the Panthers needed to work on finishing games strong, was hard-pressed to find anything wrong with Tuesday’s performance, as her team scored five runs to Taylor’s zero in the final inning.
“I think our kids are just coming together real well,” Hankins said. “I think they’re doing everything they need to do. They need to start hot, they need to carry through the middle, and they need to finish it. I think that we’re doing what we need to do. I think with every game, we’re getting a little bit more aggressive, a little more confident on the bases. I think the excitement is just contagious. We’ve just got to keep our hunger.”
Abby Covington, now 9-1 on the season, got the win on the mound for the Panthers, pitching the first five innings, while Amber Wiggins closed the sixth.
Last Friday, April 7, the Panthers played a non-district game against Caldwell. Friday was Liberty Hill’s “open date,” but Coach Hankins didn’t want the team to take a night off so close to the end of the season.
The Panthers beat Caldwell 8-1, scoring five of their eight runs in the fourth inning. Barnett went a perfect four for four at the plate, finishing with three doubles and two RBIs. Kandyn Faurie had a double and an RBI in the game, as well.
Wiggins got the win on the mound, pitching a complete game and finishing with 10 strikeouts on the evening.
With just three games left in the regular season, Barnett emphasized, as many of her teammates have all season long, the need to improve their communication on the field. She also mentioned patience at the plate as an aspect of their game that needs to improve for Liberty Hill to have success in the playoffs.
“We’re definitely trying to focus on improving our communication a little bit,” she said. “We’re making sure we’re hitting the correct pitches, swinging at the right pitches, and just tidying up some stuff in the infield. Just trying to stay sharp.”
As the playoffs approach, don’t expect the Panthers’ preparation to change. Although the coaches will do their due diligence from a scouting perspective, the girls will simply do what they’ve done all season long.
“We’ll scout other teams and see what they have, then we’ll adjust maybe what we’re pitching or how we’re pitching in practice, or how we’re hitting, but pretty much it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re just trying to do what we do,” Hankins said.
Liberty Hill will play Salado at home this Thursday, April 13, at 6:45 p.m. Next Tuesday, April 18, the Panthers will play Llano in an away game at 6 p.m.